The Jukebox Time Machine #1 – Bowie, The Sweet and a load of “Hocus Pocus”

Lately, I seem to have somewhat lost track of the original premise behind this blog. The eagle-eyed amongst you might have spotted that the domain name for this site contains the words Jukebox Time Machine but it wasn’t long before I decided to veer away from simply randomly journeying back in time to select a “track from my years”. Oh no, the featured song instead became inspired by what was going on in the news, by the seasons, or indeed what was happening in my own life. Once you delve into the back story to a song you find out so much more than was ever available back in the day, so it became appropriate to change the name of the blog to “What’s It All About?” (a nod to the opening lyric from the song Alfie, written by my favourite songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David).

But just for a bit of a change (and perhaps an idea for a new series), I am going to resurrect the idea of having an honest to goodness “time machine” that could randomly whisk me back through the years in order to find out what we were listening to, in terms of the music of the day. There are a fair few time machines in popular culture but the one I’m going to use this time is the contraption conjured up by H.G. Wells (very steampunk) and put together by some clever prop designers for the 1960 film The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor.

So now we have a vehicle to take us back in time, but how will we randomly generate the date to which we will be taken? Fortunately there are lots of devices at our disposal and I’m going to use an online random number generator. The year will be generated from between 1964 and 2006, when the popular UK chart music show Top of the Pops aired on the BBC. I can, at a push, remember watching that show with my parents right from the beginning (yes I’m that old) and I stuck with it, through the good and bad years, until they pulled the plug on it in the mid-noughties. Since then I have kind of lost the plot as far as non-mainstream new music goes, so will stick to those more familiar years. The month and date can also be randomly generated after which all we have to do is refer to the Official UK Top 40 Archive. All sounds very complicated but trust me, it’s not.

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Time to climb aboard then and generate the first date. Here goes:

Year – 1973
Month2, i.e. February
Date – 14 (cute, it’s St Valentine’s Day!)

Anyone who visits here regularly will know that this year could not be better for me in terms of conjuring up memories, as it was not only the year I became a teenager, but it was also the year I became obsessed with pop music and chart rundowns (already written about here). Referring to the Official Top 40 Chart from the 14th Feb 1973, the act at the No. 1 spot was this one, Scottish glam-rock band The Sweet with their only chart-topper, Blockbuster.

Blockbuster by Sweet:

I’m not going to dilly-dally too long writing about that one however as it has been showcased very recently over at Charity Chic Music (link here) where quite a few of us chimed in with our school-day memories of the song. It still amazes me, watching this footage of the band perform, how they somehow managed to look “macho” whilst wearing just so much glitter, gold lamé and make-up. ‘Twas the times obviously. Lead singer Brian Connolly was a good-looking man back then and I was very envious of his long blonde hair (although oddly, in this song he refers to someone with long black hair). I think I actually sported a not too dissimilar hairstyle myself for much of the noughties, but hadn’t realised until now that the inspiration for it must have been Brian from The Sweet.

But what else was in the 1973 St Valentine’s Day chart. Well as luck would have it, a song I have already featured in the blog – The Jean Genie by David Bowie (link here). It was pointed out back then by The Swede, that the opening riff of Jean Genie bore a striking similarity to that of The Sweet’s Blockbuster which was recorded for the same record label, at around the same time and released just a couple of months later (go on, do a quick compare and contrast). But it was The Sweet who made it to the top spot on this occasion as Bowie’s offering only made it to No. 2. Having done a little digging, the date we’re travelling back to in time to was very relevant to Mr Bowie as it seems that it was on the 14th of February 1973 that he collapsed from exhaustion after a performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden. He had been touring and giving press conferences as his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust for some time, but soon after this collapse, he abruptly retired the character live on stage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So far we’ve revisited two songs that sound very similar to each other but what else in the chart also sounded very similar? Although I can’t say I was a big fan back then, in the fullness of time I have come to appreciate all the falderals involved in the making of a Focus record (a bit of yodelling anyone?) and February 1973 was their time in the sun as far as chart success went. Their instrumental Sylvia was a climber at No.5 and Hocus Pocus was also climbing up the chart at No. 22.

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The Dutch prog rock outfit, Focus.

I may well have forgotten all about these Dutch prog rockers had it not been that the album I got for Christmas that year was “Arcade’s 20 Fantastic Hits by the Original Artists”, the emphasis on the word original, as up until then most of these compilations were very much by the unoriginal artists. If you look closely you will see that Blockbuster, The Jean Genie and Hocus Pocus (Track 7 on Side 2) all featured, so this February chart certainly seems to have spawned a fair few of the year’s most memorable hits. (Interesting to note there is a picture of the artist who is apparently Python Lee Jackson which caused lots of confusion at the time. Turned out PLJ was the name of an Aussie band and Rod Stewart had been a guest vocalist.)

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Hocus Pocus by Focus:

Although we have travelled back in time 45 years, so many of these songs are now part of popular culture and I can’t imagine them ever being forgotten whereas can we really say that about much of what is in the charts today? Maybe I’m wrong but could we envisage a time in the future when there will be another television cop show, this time inspired by the music of 2018? Not sure, but it certainly happened around 10 years ago when Life On Mars was made for our own BBC. The lead character Sam Tyler goes back in time to 1973 and finds himself working under the highly misogynistic, homophobic, borderline alcoholic Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt – The Gene Genie. For those of us who remember those days there were many, many amusing musical exchanges between Sam and Gene only made possible because Sam knew the legacy that would be left behind by some of the artists they listened to, on the Ford Granada car radio, or during a nightclub raid. For Gene all this music was as yet unknown, and anyway, he and his wife preferred listening to Roger Whittaker!

Ok, so Life On Mars aired a fair few years ago now but I think it is generally agreed that one of last year’s best films, for music fans at any rate, was this one – Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. I’m not usually a fan of films that feature multiple car chases, but this one was a very different animal, and the best car chase of all was played out to the sounds of Focus with what has turned out to be their most memorable recording (was it because the words rhymed so well I wonder?). Watching this excellent clip again, the lead character Baby, could definitely give Lewis Hamilton a run for his money.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on my Jukebox Time Machine journey back to February 1973. All you need is a random number generator it seems and we’re good to go, although I may change the mode of transport for next time as H.G. Wells’ time machine was a tad uncomfortable at times – Doc Brown’s DeLorean might make for a smoother ride.

As to whether the music of 2018 will feature in the movies and telly of the future, having thought about it a bit more, it probably will. As the music-obsessed youngsters of today become the movers and shakers of tomorrow, they will use the “tracks of their years” when making directorial debuts, peppering their films with the works of Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino (yes I watched the Grammys this week so am “down with the kids”). Problem is, by the time you make it in that world and are entrusted with the big budgets you are a generation older than the majority of your audience. Great for parents taking their kids to the cinema though as there is something for everyone, the action for the youngsters and the music for the mums and dads (Guardians of the Galaxy springs to mind) – All in all, a win-win situation.

Until next time….

Blockbuster Lyrics
(Song by Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn)

Ahhh, Ahh Ahhh
You better beware, you better take care
You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair
He’ll come from behind, you’ll go out of your mind
You better not go, you never know what you’ll find
Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahhh

Can’t look into his eyes, you’ll be surprised
If don’t know what going on behind his disguse
Nobody knows where Buster goes
He’ll steal your woman out from under your nose

Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

The cops are out, they’re running about
Don’t know if they’ll ever be able to blockbuster out
He’s gotta be caught, he’s gotta be taught
‘Cause he is more evil then anyone here ever thought

Does anybody know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a aho)
Does anybody know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

Does anybody know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anybody know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahh
Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahh

Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster

Buster buster blockbuster
Buster buster blockbuster

Postscript:

It occurred to me that although the journey back in time was primarily to find out what we were listening to in February 1973, perhaps it might be interesting to remind myself what I was doing at school. As luck would have it (that trusty archive box came up trumps once again), I still have a self-penned “magazine” which we all had to produce in English (the subject not the language) that year.

All very embarrassing as ever, but I was only 12 remember, and one of the “stories” was essentially an exchange between my mum and myself as to the merits of acquiring one of those new-fangled cassette recorders that had just come on the market. Ignore the fact that I seem to have missed the letter “t” in the title (should be tempted) and please ignore the fact that it seems my family were a bit tight with the cash, as in reality I did get a SONY cassette recorder later that year. It was my absolute pride and joy and was heavily used for the rest of my teenage years. I give you an extract from the Reader’s Realm February ’73 edition (adverts were included).

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Alyson’s Archive #3 – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie”

Welcome to this occasional series where I share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web! 

One of the things I found in the archive box recently was an old pocket file containing lots of pin-ups from 1970s teen magazines such as Jackie, Fab 208 and this lesser known publication (and one I had forgotten about), called FAN. I can tell which of these pin-ups had appeared on my bedroom wall at some point as the corners are a bit damaged with drawing pin holes or sticky blu-tack. This one of David Bowie was in mint condition however which makes sense as at this time it was David Cassidy and Donny Osmond (I was only 12) who tended to grace my walls, but I had obviously been enough of a fan to carefully remove it from the magazine and keep it for posterity.

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What I’ve discovered to be the most interesting aspect of having kept all this stuff for over 40 years however, is that yet again I seem to have developed a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the musical heroes of my youth. It is only after reading the articles on the back of these pin-ups that you work out what was actually happening in the world of pop music in the early ’70s as opposed to what we choose to remember was happening. No need for a long wordy post with this one therefore as it’s just kind of interesting to read this 1973 interview with Mr Bowie as it stands – It took place right around the time of the release of the album “Aladdin Sane” (with it’s iconic lightning bolt cover) and just before he embarked on the tour that would culminate in the “retirement” of the character that had become his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.

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Question Time with David Bowie, not David Dimbleby!

Considering Bowie went on to make albums right up until his death at the beginning of 2016, it is bizarre to read in this 1973 interview that he fully intended to wave goodbye to the music industry at that time and concentrate on other projects. In fact he doubted that he would appear on stage again for a very long time!

Anyway, as the timing of this interview coincided with the release of “Aladdin Sane” (apparently a play on the words “A Lad Insane”), it is entirely appropriate that today’s featured song should be something from that album. The Jean Genie had been a hit for him in December 1972 reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. It had a protagonist that was partly inspired by his good friend Iggy Pop, or an “Iggy-type” character at any rate. Much has also been made about the title referring to the author Jean Genet however Bowie himself admitted that even if it was the case, it was probably done subconsciously.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’m loving looking back at all this material from over 40 years ago but time and time again I’m having to reappraise my memories of the times. Back in the ’60s, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks fully expected their careers to last for 2 or 3 years maximum, and being of the first rock ‘n’ roll generation there was no model to suppose it would turn out to the contrary. Likewise in the early ’70s David Bowie fully embraced that his music career was probably now over and I no doubt just accepted that as being the case back then. How bizarre then to think that I have a friend who is just back from seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rolling Stones are still touring and Ray Davis has just been knighted. Who would have thought it?

The Jean Genie Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie)

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go and everything tastes right
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile
She loves him, she loves him but just for a short while
She’ll scratch in the sand, won’t let go his hand
He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition
And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his module
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule
Loves to be loved, loves to be loved

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!